The Republican congressional leadership has been nominally--but sometimes it seems only nominally--committed to repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a conservative alternative. Now one of the two leading candidates for House majority leader—the number-two position in leadership—is Dr. Tom Price, who has probably done more to advance the cause of repeal than any other single member of the 114th Congress.
This spring, Price released an Obamacare alternative that Bill Kristol called “the strongest Obamacare alternative offered in Congress to date.” Price’s legislation was based on the “Winning Alternative to Obamacare,” a proposal from the 2017 Project (which Kristol and I co-founded). It currently has 79 co-signers—including Jeb Hensarling, Marsha Blackburn, and Republican Study Committee (RSC) chairman Bill Flores—and has gained the attention of numerous Republican presidential candidates. Moreover, this is hardly new terrain for Price, who put out his first Obamacare alternative even before Obamacare was passed.
Price’s chief competition for majority leader, current House majority whip Steven Scalise, was chairman of the RSC when that group put out an Obamacare alternative under his leadership two years ago. But that proposal, which deserves credit for helping to get the ball rolling, is not a politically viable alternative to Obamacare—for reasons discussed here—and would never lead to full repeal.
In terms of beating back President Obama’s signature legislation, Price’s bill is another matter. Kristol writes,
“The Price legislation has the best chance of any proposal to date to unite Republicans around an Obamacare alternative. That’s because the legislation is well-conceived both politically and as policy. It is simple and understandable. It wouldn’t disrupt the tax treatment of the typical American’s employer-based insurance, thereby denying liberals their easiest potential line of attack. And it splits the difference between the two other leading Congressional efforts—the Republican Study Committee and Burr-Hatch-Upton proposals—in that it doesn’t benefit only one portion of the population (Burr-Hatch-Upton would help almost exclusively the poor and near-poor, while the RSC proposal with tax deductions rather than credits would mostly help the middle class and up). Instead it provides real reform that would be good for a wide cross-section of American society.”
Furthermore, Price has demonstrated his commitment to repealing Obamacare during the ongoing internal battles over how Congress should make use of reconciliation. That’s the budgetary process that can circumvent the Senate’s filibuster, and it’s also the process without which the Democrats couldn’t have gotten Obamacare across the finish line in 2010. Price has been pushing to have Congress use reconciliation to repeal all of Obamacare, as a trial run for 2017 (when Obama will no longer wield the veto pen). But he has been met with resistance from current House leadership and the chairmen of the three committees of jurisdiction, who would rather use reconciliation to push mostly corporate-friendly elements of repeal.
Now, for the first time since Republicans’ opposition to Obamacare vaulted them into power in the House, they have a chance to have as leader someone whose top legislative priority has been repealing and replacing Obamacare.